In my attempt to prove that Hammer is a lot more than just Dracula and Frankenstein I bring you The Men of Sherwood Forest, a film that helped usher in Hammer's series of swash buckling films which included not only Robin Hood but pirates as well. This was the film that kicked off Hammer's Robin Hood trilogy and is the production company's first color feature. So does Hammer succeed in bringing the Robin Hood tale to the screen? And how does it compared with the film I recently reviewed from Spain, The Archer of Fire?
The recent murder of John Fitzroy in Sherwood forest is pinned on Robin Hood and his Merry Men. It's troublesome news to Sir Nigel and the Count of Moraine who were awaiting an object that Fitzroy was on route to deliver to them, an object which contained instructions on where to meet King Richard, who unbeknown to most had recently escaped imprisonment in Germany. Sir Nigel, not believing this to be the work of Robin Hood, treks off into the forest to speak with him in person. Robin confirms he had no involvement in the robbery and agrees to assist Nigel in recovering the object for the sake of the King's safety. Robin shortly learns it's in the procession of Sir Guy Belton, and once Sir Guy discovers the secret plans of Richard's return he sends forth a group of his soldiers disguised as Robin Hood's men to ambush him in the forest. With King Richard out of the way Prince John can finally become King of England.
The Men of Sherwood Forest is quite a diversion from the normal Robin Hood storyline. Taking place ten years into the lore of Robin Hood, Maid Marion is completely absent, Prince John is only mentioned, and the Sheriff of Nottingham has a very limited role. So for the most part the film is carried by Robin Hood, Friar Tuck and Sir Guy, which I found a little odd. As a whole I was quite disappointed, expecting a little more from Hammer considering some of the past films I've seen (although this being the oldest) as certain aspects stuck out like a sore thumb. Those included the actors delivery of the script, the actor portraying Robin Hood, and the action sequences.
First, the delivery of the lines seemed extremely rushed. The actors seemed to be purely regurgitating the script as fast as they could as if to meet a specific run-time for the film. It thus made the story hard to follow at times as the accents and the speed of their speech began to wash out the clarity, not to mention it sounded completely unnatural. Second, the actor portraying Robin Hood (Don Taylor) simply didn't work for me. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Taylor was American, while the rest of the cast was British, but he seemed poorly cast for the role. His version of Rood Hood seemed better suited for a Three Musketeer's film or one of Hammer's pirate adventures, not the famed archer. Lastly, the action sequences where quite atrocious, very slow paced, mechanical and simply boring. The sword fights mirrored something you might see in a school play, clumsy and poorly choreographed.
After watching The Men of Sherwood Forest I found myself appreciating The Archer of Fire even more. While The Archer of Fire is a little more corny, as a whole it was a much more enjoyable film, containing the full cast of Robin Hood characters, very entertaining fight scenes, and a lot better acting. Surprisingly upon it's release in October of 1954 The Men of Sherwood Forest was quite well received by the critics, many who would eventually have nothing good to say about some of Hammer's later endeavors. Personally the only praise I can give the film is it's short run-time. At only 77 minutes long it's not a pain to sit through, and while it's not an awful film compared to past Robin Hood adventures I've seen so far, it's definitely the worst of them.
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